In this article we look at a number locomotives that work for the Great Sandhills Railway in western Saskatchewan. All these were found, completely by chance, while we explored the area in search of old grain elevators and abandoned places. Some of these engines are old, others are very old, some look beat up, all are interesting.
First a little back story on the railway. The GSR, as we’ll call it, dates from 2009. At that time, the company took over a number of CPR branch lines in an area. The big railway saw them as marginal, but in private hands and run efficiently certainly they could be profitable. So the deal was made.
The railway has about 180kms of track. The line starts at a point near Swift Current, heading roughly northwest into Leader and beyond to Burstall, not far from the Alberta border. When under CPR ownership there used to be other branches off the line but these were abandoned prior to the the takeover by the GSR. The lines in use today are the former Empress and Burstall Subdivisions respectively, and were built in the years 1911-1923.
The majority of traffic handled, naturally, is grain, along with products related to the petroleum industries. They also make money storing excess rail cars, something many shortlines do to make ends meet. The railway is named after the Great Sandhills located nearby, an area of dunes and desert like conditions.
Let’s check out the locomotives!
First up, DLCX #6930. We found it parked at the very end of a stub track, next to a road, near the town of Leader. It’s not known why it would be sitting at such an odd location. Videos on YouTube show it in service in 2013. I heard it has a mechanical ailment that prevents it from being used now however.
DLCX is the reporting mark for the Diesel Locomotive Company in the US. They lease and sell used locomotives. I’ve heard from some sources that this engine is owned by the GSR outright, but was leased by them initially.
It was built in 1971 by General Motors Diesel Division (GMDD) of London Ontario for the CNR. It is a model SD40 that was upgraded in the late 1990s, Now it’s called an SD40-3. The SD40 series was one of the most popular lines of locomotives ever produced and even today many are still in service (the numbers are thinning fast). They were produced from the mid-1960s, across several sub-models, well into the 1980s. The engine today carries the same road number is had when it was last in CNR service. That railway, by the way, disposed of it 2011 – it’s not clear if it came to the GSR right after or at a later date.
One would think that this locomotive is a bit too large for the rather light track that’s to be found along the line. It’s quite a bit bigger than others on the GSR roster.
Up next is DLCX #8308, located just east of Leader. It’s used to switch the Great Sandhills Terminal grain elevator. This one is an oldie, but of all the locomotives seen, visually anyway, it appears in the best shape. It was built, as a model GP-9B, way back in 1954 by the Electromotive Diesel (EMD) company in the US. GMDD mentioned earlier was a sister factory. The GP9 series was one of the most popular diesel locomotive ever made, in both the US and Canada, and even as old as they are (produced 1954-1963), they are still very serviceable. A good number are still at work.
This locomotive’s original owner was the Union Pacific Railway. In the 1970s it was acquired by a broker and rebuilt, either as a model GP-9u or GP-10 depending on which source you refer to, and was sold to the Illinois Central Gulf Railway. At that time some changes were made to the cab, it had none to begin with, and to the carbody, so visually it looks quite different from when it was new.
The ICG sold the locomotive in the mid-1980s. It passed through a number of hands before heading up north to Canada (sometime after 2012). It’s leased out by the by DLCX company, remember them? It’s not known if it’s a GSR engine or instead stays strictly at the grain terminal where it was spotted.
Seen in front of the locomotive is a funny yellow thing (see the pictures). This is a derail. It does exactly that and via a wedge device, will cause an errant car to go off the tracks should it somehow roll free, thereby preventing it from fouling the main track. This sounds drastic, but it’s preferable to a car getting away completely.
The final three locomotives we saw were spotted pulling a train as we headed east near the town of Abbey. As we approached we saw the train was parked. This tells us the crew had “outlawed” meaning they had reached the maximum number of hours they could work for that day. When this happens they park the train near a road crossing and wait for a replacement crew to take over – or they book off, head home and return the next day to finish the run. The slow track along the GSR means outlaw incidents are likely not that uncommon.
All three locomotives are leased, this time from a company called General American Transportation (aka GATX Rail). The front one, #2683, as built was an EMD model GP38 in 1970. It’s original owner was the legendary B&O Railroad (Baltimore and Ohio) in the US. You might remember them from the board game Monopoly.
At some point, exact date unknown but likely sometime in the early to mid 2000s, the engine was retired by CSX (B&O’s successor) and put into the GATX lease fleet. It’s believed that the engine has been upgraded to GP38-2 standards. It’s been on the GSR roster since around 2011.
The second engine was an EMD model GP40, built in 1971, also for the B&O. The GP38 and GP40 are in many ways similar, hence why it looks like the first locomotive. The exact date it was retired is not known (early to mid 2000s is a good bet). Rebuilt to (I believe) GP38-2 standards it was put into the GATX lease fleet at some point after that. It’s been on the GSR roster for a few years.
The third locomotive is an EMD model GP40 built in 1966 for the Illinois Central Railway. At some point it was rebuilt not just once (as a GP40r) but a second time, becoming a GP38-2 model in the process. Recall a GP38 and GP40 are mechanically very similar – a GP38 however is better suited for yeoman work and is somewhat simpler in design. Before coming to the GSR (around 2011 I’m told), this engine worked in BC.
This GSR train by the way, seemed a good size and was too big to see in it entirety. If this is a representation of the traffic on the line, things are going well for the railway.
I believe we saw all locomotive on the GSR roster this day. From 2009 to around 2011, the company leased a number of others, but they are beyond the scope of this article.
To see other locomotive we’ve come across in our travels, check out these links…
The little yellow locomotive.
Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions Big Valley Alberta.
Canadian National Railway #1158.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: May, 2014.
Location: Near Leader and Abbey, SK.